Hilltoppers sweep WKU Volleyball Invitational to wrap up non-conference slate


Allie Hendricks

WKU defensive specialist Ashely Hood (11) jumps to save the ball during the match against St. John’s University at Diddle Arena on Sept. 18, 2021.

Cassady Lamb, Volleyball reporter

No. 23 WKU (11-1) took on St. John’s University (9-5) Saturday afternoon in the Hilltopper’s final match of the WKU Volleyball Invitational, sweeping the Red Storm 3-0 in front of WKU’s home crowd at Diddle Arena. 

WKU compiled a .387 hitting clip in Saturday’s match. It was the first time the two teams had ever met.

“It is exciting,” head coach Travis Hudson said after the win. “It’s exciting to get in and out of here with three sweeps, that’s for sure. I’m really really proud of our team.”

WKU swept Ohio, Austin Peay and St. John’s throughout the weekend, finishing out the invitational a perfect 3-0. It was the last non-conference invitational for WKU as the team will enter C-USA play next weekend.

Fifth-year right side Kayland Jackson expressed her satisfaction with her team’s performances throughout the invitational.

“I think our team all around just did a really good job of that and whoever was on the court stepped in and did their job,” Jackson said. “That really pushes us forward into [conference play] really well and gives everyone a really good feeling going into it.”

Senior middle hitter Lauren Matthews brought in the most points for the Hilltoppers Saturday, bringing in 13.5 points and hitting 12 kills with a .529 hitting clip.

Set 1 – WKU 25, SJU 14

St. John’s earned the first points of the match after a kill by Klara Mikelova and a WKU attack error. A kill by Jackson put WKU on the scoreboard.

The Hilltoppers went on an early 5-0 scoring run pushing them up 5-2, which led to St. John’s taking its first timeout of the match. 

Freshman defensive specialist Kelsey Brangers hit the first ace of the day as the starting libero, increasing WKU’s advantage to 9-6. A block by Briggs grew the team’s lead to five points.

“[Brangers] was flying around today and yesterday and getting coverages for us,” Matthews said. “It was just really fun to see.”

A St. John’s attack brought the score up to 15-8, and the Red Storm called their second timeout of the match. A kill by Matthews pushed the Hilltoppers to 20 points.

A kill by junior outside hitter Paige Briggs brought on setpoint while the Hilltoppers held a double-digit lead. Setpoint continued for one more play, a kill by St. John’s Rachele Rastelli. The set was closed out 25-14 in WKU’s favor when a St. John’s ball found itself out of bounds the following play.

“We were focusing on communication and eye contact,” Matthews said. “Those were our main things coming into this weekend to get us ready for conference play. So I think that was one of the things that really helped us out yesterday and today.”

Set 2 – WKU 25, SJU 21

WKU began the second set with a kill by Jackson. A Red Storm block allowed them to receive their first point of the set.

The Hilltoppers were able to go on a 4-0 scoring run including kills by Howard and Briggs, a block by Matthews and an ace by fifth-year defensive specialist Logan Kael. The run was cut after Kael over-served.

WKU went on a 3-0 scoring run and was first to get to double-digits, forcing St. John’s to call its first timeout of the set. Jackson and Isenbarger came out of the timeout teaming up for a block, bringing the score to 12-5.

St John’s was then able to go on 4-0 run, bringing the score to 13-11, a two-point advantage for WKU. The score became knotted 14-14 after back-to-back kills from St. John’s Rastelli. WKU then called its first timeout of the match. Kills from Matthews and freshman outside hitter Katie Howard followed the timeout.

The WKU volleyball team celebrates after winning the match against St. John’s University at Diddle Arena on Sept. 18, 2021. (Allie Hendricks)

The score stayed tight heading into the end of the set with multiple lead changes. WKU was able to gain a two-point lead following kills by Briggs and senior middle hitter Katie Isenbarger. St. John’s called a timeout when the scoreboard hit 21-19.

Jackson came out of the timeout with a kill. Another kill by Jackson brought the second set to setpoint and an overhit Red Storm ball went out of bounds, resulting in another Hilltopper set win 25-21.

Set 3 – WKU 25, SJU 14

The third set began with a kill by St. John’s Klara Mekelova, and WKU got its first point of the set in the next play with a kill by Matthews.

St. John’s was able to see an early 7-3 lead which was followed by a WKU timeout. WKU came back, going on a 6-0 scoring run to tie up the score 8-8. St. John’s called a timeout.

WKU climbed to a seven-point 18-11 lead and St. John’s called another timeout. The Hilltoppers were first to 20 points and their lead increased to nine when Briggs came out of the timeout with a kill and St. John’s committed an attack error.

Back-to-back kills by Isenbarger brought in matchpoint which was continued for an extra play after St. John’s Jovana Askovic blocked a Hilltopper ball. A Red Storm service error ended the third set 25-14 with a WKU win.

Hudson said the team has hit a wall this week due to the team playing two seasons in one calendar year.

“We’ve had to be very intentional in trying to fight through that,” Hudson said. “Just wheel our way back into finding our center, in terms of why we play and how we play. So I’m really, really proud that they fought themselves through this weekend and a lot of good things happened.”

Next, WKU will begin C-USA play with a home match against Marshall on Friday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. CT.

“They’re playing the defending champion to start conference play,” Hudson said about Marshall. “They’ll come in here with nothing to lose, letting it fly. They’re a really talented bunch and play with great energy about them. We certainly expect a dogfight next Friday night.”

Volleyball beat reporter Cassady Lamb can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @lambp0p.